In response to ongoing George Floyd protests, Chattanooga police Chief David Roddy has added a "duty to intervene" clause in the department's code of conduct policy.
The clause is a step above an already-established requirement that officers report use-of-force instances and any violation of rules or orders by their colleagues.
Protesters have taken to the streets across the nation demanding action from their city governments and police departments after Floyd, a handcuffed black man, died as a white Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground with his knee on his neck.
Here in Chattanooga, activists made a list of demands for the city of Chattanooga and its police department. It included implementing a "warning before shooting" policy, something that had already been practiced for more than 20 years, according to police spokeswoman Elisa Myzal, and a policy requiring officers to intervene when excessive force is not used in a proper continuum.
On Monday, Chattanooga police announced the addition of the requirement to intervene.
It reads, "Each department member has the individual responsibility to intervene and stop any other member from committing an unlawful or improper act, including but not limited to acts of brutality, abuses of process, abuses of authority and any other criminal acts or major violations of department rules and procedures. Successful intervention does not negate a duty to report.
"These actions are intended to make clear to CPD officers and to the community the department serves that police shall intervene when they see another officer committing an unlawful or improper act," Myzal wrote in a news release. "Failure to do so will result in disciplinary action."
Local attorney and former police officer Robin Flores, who regularly sues local law enforcement agencies over alleged civil rights violations, said that adding the policy is a good thing.
"You would think that [intervening] is something that just goes with the job ... but it's not. You got the blue wall of silence there," he said. "Now what this does, is it puts a policy out that basically says, 'Look, if you see something, say something.' Or in this case, 'see something, do something.' And it puts an affirmative duty on all police officers to police themselves."
Including a specific policy gives some level of assurance that the department will protect officers who would step up but are afraid to do so, Flores said.
Over on Signal Mountain, its police department has had the same policy requiring officers to intervene since January 2019. And the East Ridge Police Department has been in the process of updating all of its policies since January of this year, City Manager Chris Dorsey said, including the addition of a duty-to-intervene clause.
Other police departments — Collegedale, Red Bank and Soddy-Daisy — did not respond to a request to confirm whether they had such a policy or plan to implement one.
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond wouldn't say whether the sheriff's office has a specific policy addressing a duty to intervene but said his officers follow the practices required by the state and national law enforcement accreditation agencies.
"Whether you're a citizen or whether you're a police officer, you have a human responsibility to intervene when you see wrong going on ... The sheriff's office does not condone people who refuse to intervene when there's a wrong, whether they work for me or not," he said. "If you're asking me, have I put a sentence in there [the policy book], you're gonna find it in various places. I'm not gonna be pinned down that there's a certain line that says certain things in there. We just, we follow the standards of [the state and accreditation agencies] and what we expect our officers to behave by."
Local activist Cameron "C-Grimey" Williams, a leader of the local George Floyd protest movement, said, "If there's a clear policy that if you do such-and-such, then you will be held accountable, it makes it a lot simpler.
"It's 2020. It would be very easy to get with some people who are good with language and create a policy that can be in black-and-white in the handbook for all deputies and sheriffs and all citizens to see and have a clear understanding, which would then take out a lot of gray area on what the expectations are," Williams said.
Currently, a former Hamilton County deputy — Daniel Wilkey — and at least three other deputies are facing 10 federal civil lawsuits, including a class action, accusing Wilkey of brutality and the others of standing by as Wilkey forced a woman to let him baptize her during a traffic stop, something Wilkey and his attorney have admitted, although they claim it was the woman's idea to be baptized. That's in addition to Wilkey facing 44 criminal charges, including six counts of sexual battery, two counts of rape and nine counts of official oppression.
Ultimately, putting a policy in place is good, but it means nothing if it's not enforced, said law enforcement expert and current Plymouth Township, Michigan, police Chief Thomas J. Tiderington.
"The culture, without a policy in place that prohibits misconduct and unjustified use of force, is just as relevant and just as important," he said.
Including such a policy offers a mechanism for discipline — sometimes even termination — of officers who are acting outside of policy, Flores said. And it could also protect a government entity — a city or county — from being held liable for the actions of its officers.
So when facing litigation, the government could say, "'Look, they're not — this is outside of policy, and it's on him,'" Flores said, leaving the financial liability on the officer.
That would be good news for taxpayers but it could be bad news for any future victims of police misconduct, as an individual officer may be unable to afford a settlement. But the goal would be to have fewer or no more victims, Flores said.
"What I hope is that my civil rights lawsuits dry up to nothing because that means people are not being hurt and abused," he said.
For Chief Roddy, he said he looks forward to upcoming conversations and that he encourages the inclusion of community leaders, law enforcement and others who have made their concerns known in recent days.
Local activist Williams said he thinks it's a step in the right direction.
"I think that it shows that the chief is listening, and it proves that other city officials are listening and should also sit down with us and see what we can try to get accomplished," he said.
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